Voter enrichment: Proposition 89 looks to take big money out of politics

Published on

Pasadena Weekly

Think your vote counts?

A lot of people don’t, but supporters of Proposition 89 — which would set new limits on campaign contributions and allow candidates to reject private funding altogether — want to change their minds.
In today’s state political environment, argue initiative sponsors the California Nurses Association and the League of Women Voters, large donors are funneling so much money into political campaigns that their influence over the business of Sacramento has basically taken government out of the hands of the people.

And when it comes to political initiatives, the millions of dollars that special interest groups spend on television advertising makes it difficult for anyone else to get a word in edgewise.

In fact, just 10 corporations have provided 61 percent of all initiative funding for this election cycle, outspending even unions by 12 to 1, according to a recent analysis by Proposition 89 supporters the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

The top 10 corporate spenders, accounting for more than $132 million, are: Phillip Morris USA Inc., Chevron Corp., Aera Energy (ExxonMobil and Shell), RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., a political action committee for the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Occidental Oil and Gas Corp., US Smokeless Tobacco Co., a political action committee for developers, Plains Exploration & Production Co. (oil) and Commonwealth Brands, Inc. (tobacco).

These same corporations, according to the Santa Monica-based group, have spent at least $1 of every $4 in all state candidate or ballot measure contests.

Under Proposition 89 it would be impossible for such a small group of corporate donors to exert so much influence, said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the Yes on 89 campaign.

The measure limits all donors — corporations, labor unions and individuals — to spending just $15,000 per year on all candidates in state races, and further limits contributions to any single candidate to $500 for state Assembly and Senate races and $1,000 for gubernatorial and other statewide races.

It also creates an opportunity for qualified candidates to reject all campaign donations whatsoever in return for public financing of their campaign, with those funds provided by raising taxes on the state’s biggest corporations by two-tenths of one percent, said Idelson.

Newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Daily News of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Chronicle have all run editorials that encourage support for public financing of elections but discourage voter support of Proposition 89 due to the small corporate tax increase.

Supporters, however, feel a corporate tax is merely leveling the playing field, as the current system’s bias is already set heavily in their favor.

According to a February Times report on the defeat of pro-consumer legislation that was opposed by insurance companies, those companies had already spent $25 million since 2003 on campaign contributions — money that in some cases made up one-fifth of all campaign funding for members of the Assembly’s Insurance Committee.

“Corporations are the ones who have benefited from their political influence over the system,” said Idelson. Since 1980, he said, “the corporate tax share has fallen from 15 to 11 percent, and a really tiny increase will bring them under the level it was under [Govs.] Deukmejian and Wilson.”

Most businesses — about 94 percent — would not be taxed for public financing of elections under the measure, said Idelson.

While Proposition 89 would limit contributions to candidates for everyone, including the initiative’s supporters, only large corporations would be limited in terms of support for ballot measures.

Each would be allowed to spend only $10,000 directly on support or opposition to any ballot measure, but could also spend to help raise contributions from other donors. A company’s officers, like any other individuals, would not be restricted.

Insurance companies have spent the most to defeat Proposition 89 — more than $1 million, according to state campaign finance records. Healthcare and prescription drug companies have spent more than $900,000, oil companies have spent nearly $700,000 and real estate and development interests have spent just over $500,000.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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